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When I was in my twenties, I spent a stint of time as a dog walker. I loved the job, since it gave me a reasonable excuse to be outside in every type of weather and I really like the company of dogs. One day, it was storming like crazy in San Francisco, where I worked. I was concerned about the wind whipping branches out of trees and killing me or the dogs, so we went to the beach for our outing. We were at Chrissy Field, just inside the bay from the Golden Gate bridge. Almost as soon as we hit the beach, I heard this incredible rumbling out on the bay. The storm was so thick that you couldn’t see more than 30 feet out into the water – it was just a whitewash of gusting rain. At first I thought the rumbling was a distressed tanker in the bay and suddenly I realized it was a gale force wind — literally a wall of wind flying from the ocean, under the Golden Gate Bridge and slamming across the surface of the water towards us. The dogs were all standing a bit in front of me and I knew I had to protect them. I squatted down and screamed out to them over the storm while unzipping my raincoat, my back to the bridge where the wind was coming from. I opened my jacket just in time to create a pocket of still space in front of me. The dogs, lowering their heads facing the wind, inched into the pocket just as the gale rushed over us. One of the smaller dogs got picked up in the wind and tossed a few times along the sand. We, meaning the other dogs and I, moved like a phalanx in the wind, keeping the cover of the jacket spread wide like wings, until we could catch up with Charlie. We stayed like that for a good fifteen minutes until the gusts stopped and everything got quiet again. The sun broke out over a still, grey air and we looked at each other, stunned and thrilled at the same time that we’d managed through that experience together.

I recount that story because it makes me think of the way in which I want to spread my wings over my children, creating a sheltering pocket for them from all the speed and racing, media and technology that waits with bated breath just outside the door. I don’t think all technology and media are evil, but that there’s a time and place for them. In the same way that it takes an adult to appreciate a wine, so too does it take a fully mature mind to be able to handle the speed of common life today. I’d rather under-expose my children to technology and media than over-expose them. They way I see it, I have always figured that if they want to be media savvy and live a fast-paced life, they can always catch up as young adults. It’s not like you can’t pick up technology and adaptively use it in your life — that’s the very nature of technology — it’s meant to make your life faster and easier.

Parenting for a Slow Childhood

I recently read a fantastic guest post by Esa Helttula at the “Moms with Apps” blog. It’s entitled “Let the Children Play.” It’s ironic that a techno-focused blog would post something this profound in justification of unplugging your life and your children.

Esa illuminates some of the outcomes that result from a deficiency in play, especially unstructured, outdoor play, in our children. Apparently it’s a global phenomenon. I instinctively strive to give my children what I call a “Slow Childhood.” This means minimizing obligations to a hyper-scheduled life and providing lots of unstructured play time, focusing on toys that require imagination and interaction to make them function (ie, generally not things that light up and go “whiz-bang!”). One of Esa’s points that struck home with me was the need for children to create games that are based on their rules. This isn’t about being in power, but in play-acting the structures that they encounter every day which are rarely explicitly declared, but upon which we base most of our society. It must be very confusing for children to comprehend the norms of introduction between adults, or the art of navigating the rules of traffic! By being able to play-act and create games that fluidly shift rules and dynamics, children can experiment with the social structures they encounter and come to master them through play.

Another aspect that jumped out was that which relates to elaboration:

The most striking decline was in Elaboration (ability to develop and elaborate upon ideas and detailed and reflective thinking and motivation to be creative). Scores in Elaboration decreased by over 36 % from 1984 to 2008.

I started wondering who else is thinking about the idea of a Slow Childhood and came across this beautiful post on “A Wild and Precious Life.” This homeschooling mom commends Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. I think I’ll add it to the list and start looking for more ways to build on this idea of spreading my wings to create the space, protecting my children from the gale force winds of technology and the pace of modern life so I may give them the gift of a Slow Childhood.

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Check out the resource guide on princesses and fairy tales.

It gives some options for directing “princess passion” away from Disney misogyny and includes great information about media awareness for girls.

Image used under Creative Commons Licensing, attributed to iboy_daniel

There’s an interesting post that made the WordPress.com home page today about some young girls in Beirut. The post is about the “whitening effect” related to race and how some cultures are pretty upfront about preferring lighter skin – so much so that they openly advertise skin lightening products. At one point, the blogger conveys how much “white” is preferred and how it’s exemplified by her young pupils who have taken to playing a Disney Princess game where they can create their own version of a princess. Though they hem and haw over details like clothes and hair, they reflexively choose the “white” skin color on the princesses.

Since I already have an axe to grind about Disney Princesses, this post practically leapt off the screen for me. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that media influences self-image and that there’s considerable cause for alarm, especially as it relates to children. Boys and girls are limited by media influence, but I’m more concerned about my daughter than my son because the majority of roles portrayed for girls and women in media are that of supporters and objects, not leaders and protagonists. Some day, when I have more time I’ll get into the boy part, but the girl part has me for now. Part of it is that, when it comes to girl physiques, all types come with their risks — stereotypically attractive girls will be objectified and sexualized as they mature, more physically challenged girls will hold themselves in comparison.

As a mom, I’m driven to creating a sense of inner character and beauty in both of my children, male and female. In order to do this, I think it’s important to keep them from the dominant media culture as much as possible, as long as possible (they’re both <4 yrs old right now).This especially applies to the cabalesque influence of the Disney Princess regime and the Barbie empire. Both of the aforementioned perpetuate unrealistic physiques for girls and shuttle them into cattle shoots the feed the girls into cookie cutter versions of who they should become. This may sound extreme, but if you doubt my mentality, take a few days to breeze through Packaging Girlhood. It makes a pretty good case for the fact that there genuine intent in the crafting of marketing schemes to produce ultimate consumers. Or read this wonderful letter petitioning Pixar to create an un-Disney movie with a female protagonist to get a sense of the need for more.

When I try to discuss this subject with other adults, I’m surprised at how often my concerns are met with an attitude of “what’s the big deal? You’re taking things way to seriously.” or “You’re overthinking things.” Really? Am I? Take a moment to look at these short videos produced by Dove. Sure, it’s just another take on a media campaign, a fresh spin, but at least they’re pointing out something that’s deadly serious.

Watch the videos and then ask yourself if you still think the influence of media on girls’ body images is benign. Tell me there’s not something to be worked up about.

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I’m sure this has been all over the interwebs for days now, but I’ve just come across this lovely blog by a new mother in Helsinki. The photographs are unbelievably sweet. I really hope she does turn this into a coffee table book, or at least a calendar. They would also make beautiful cards.

When my daughter was a wee one, I took tons (thousands, literally) of photographs of her, but never once came as close to something as creative as this. The closest I got was putting her in a basket on Halloween night when she was about a week old. The end result isn’t nearly as appealing as Adele’s. She looks more like a freshly hatched chicken still covered in yolk than a delicate, flowering little person like Mila!

When my son was born, I was lucky to get a few shots here and there in between chasing a 22 month old and tending to a colicky newborn. Perhaps if we have another child I can nail down some shots half as sweet as Adele’s. For now, I’ll just look at hers and sigh at their wonderful sweetness.

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Photo used by Creative Commons license, by Seq on Flickr


Me, not you. I would never tell you to shut up.

I’m reading this book that I feel was divinely sent to me. I ordered it on Amazon, so I know little book elves didn’t magically ferret it under my pillow one night. I still feel it was handed down from on-high (take your pick which mountain or deity) because it is helping me so much during this latest parenting crisis!

The book, Love, Limits and Lessons by Bill Corbett is quite slender with large type. It’s an easy read with quite simple ideas, some of which I’ve heard or read before but haven’t figured out how to reflexively apply, others being completely new to me.

This evening, at dinner, I focused on Corbett’s tactic of silence. He mentions the power of silence for a few situations – when seeking compliance about something a child is supposed to do, as well as to reward a child with 100% attention. I can’t explain it as eloquently as he does (obviously – look at the title of this post!), so I’ll just leave it to him. Get the book!!! I will say that I had the most amazing time with my two young children. My son, 23 months, never sits still for meals and eats almost nothing. Tonight, without saying a word, I managed to get him to eat most of his meal just by gently redirecting him back to his seat (and sitting 8 inches from him) and saying “eat” or just pointing at his food. I got no push-back from him.

My daughter, at 3.5 years, can be quite a handful – a total bundle of energy and sprite, rolled in with the greatest stubborn streak and desire to rule the world. She also never, ever, stops talking as long as she’s awake and she almost always talks IN A FULL SHOUT LIKE SHE’S IN ALL CAPS MODE ALL THE TIME. Tonight, just by being 100% present with her and giving her very minimal verbal response, she was lovely and calm at dinner. I felt like this was one of the first dinners I could breathe through.

Thank you Bill Corbett!!!

If you want to know more about Corbett’s work, here’s his site: http://billcorbett.vpweb.com/default.html and, more importantly, here’s his blog with some wonderful parenting articles on it.

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One of my neighbors dropped by this afternoon and gave us some hand-me-down giant lego blocks. My husband has tremendous issue with my ready acceptance of hand-me-downs. He complains that I never turn anything away, and he’s right. As a result of my open-arm policy on hand-me-downs we have a home bulging with toys. The problem is compounded by the fact that I haven’t purged any baby stuff yet. It all just keeps getting boxed up and put in our (als0 bulging) garage.

When my daughter was an infant and I first started getting these piles of hand-me-down clothes and toys from various streams, I was blown away by friends and family generosity. Now that my daughter is almost four and my son is breeching two, I see it from a different perspective. We are choking on baby clothes, toys, tchachkis. Everything keeps coming in… nothing goes out.

The problem is that we’re not 100% sure that we’re done having children. Also, a lot of the hand-me-downs were provided with the understanding that I’d circle them back, if needed, to the original giver. Since no one has had babies since (except me, with our son), the stuff lives in our living room, our children’s rooms, our closets, our bedroom and garage. I’m choking for a good purge. Fortunately, one of my sister-in-laws is about to have her fourth (whoops! holy surprise on that one!), so I’m going to rotate half of my supply out (the girl stuff). I’m giving it with the same provision though…. “Hold onto it in case I need it back… don’t give it on to anyone else…”

Letting go of children’s things is really hard. As much as I hate tripping over it, feeling like it’s eating up so much space in our house… it’s hard to let go. It’s even hard to pack some things up to the Toy Purgatory of our garage because that means our children have officially outgrown them. The toys will sit in their storage boxes, silent, gathering some dust… waiting on the chance that we may have another baby in our lives. These are the thoughts and feelings that tug at me and make it hard to clear everything out.

My husband constantly complains about it. He was practically glowering at our poor neighbor while she handed me the basket full of Legos. Pressured by his frustration, I immediately set about to putting toys in two bags – one for the trash, the other for the garage – in order to create new space in the house for more age appropriate toys…

Until my husband saw me putting Emily in the bag. Emily is the $20, French, all-natural rubber giraffe teething toy that was all the rage when my daughter was 6 months old. Neither of our children play with Emily now. In truth, they didn’t play with her much when they were teething. But she’s terribly cute and she represents a moment in our parenting lives, the moment when we would pay anything to try to help give comfort to our little girl’s teething pain.

My husband stopped me as I put Emily in the bag — “You can’t take Emily!!!” “Why not?,” I asked. “Because that’ll mean they’re growing up.”

So, we live with some more clutter for now.

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For information and resources check out the resource guide on princesses and fairy tales. It gives some options for directing “princess passion” away from Disney misogyny.

Shoot me now. Who thinks this junk up?

Polite as a Princess

Here’s a quote from the back of the book:

The Disney Princesses know that it’s important to have good manners. Now you can learn to be as polite as a princess, too. All you have to do is say “pretty please,” and read this book!

Here’s my review from Amazon, a 1 star, of course:

“I have swallowed a secret burning thread. It cuts me inside and often I’ve bled.”

That’s a quote from a Suzanne Vega song, “The Queen and the Soldier.”

Teaching manners to children is all well and good, but courtliness isn’t about being a Disney prince or princess – it’s about being considerate and appreciative of others as a basic human value. Sure, this book has a seemingly well intentioned purpose: to teach your little girl good manners, but it comes at a cost – “be a little princess, learn to keep your mouth shut, be polite, passive and considerate of all others and maybe, some day your prince will come for you too!” Here’s a thought, skip the prince, skip the princess, learn about values of caring from others from true heroes and role models, like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King.

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Looking for anti-disney resources to raise an unprincess? Check out the Princesses and Fairy Tales resource list.

Years ago, I babysat for a lesbian couple who had two little daughters. I was living on the East Coast and during my spring break, I visited San Francisco for the first time.  While perusing an alternative bookstore, I came across “The Paper Bag Princess.” At the time, in the early 90’s,  I thought this was an incredibly avant-garde book and snatched it up for the moms to share with their girls. Little did I realize at the time how I would come to appreciate this book for my own children and come to consider its “the princess doesn’t need the prince” message as a moral every little girl should learn, not just the daughters of lesbians!

I share that vignette as a note to how far my own perspective has changed over the years. I was raised fairly consciously about gender roles and grew up in an extremely pro-feminist area. Even with that advantage, I was so indoctrinated to the standard messages of  the princess tropes in contemporary and historical storylines that it seemed kitchy and cute to get an empowering book for little girls (this was in the pre “girl power” days, when the idea of girl empowerment hadn’t yet been a readily accepted intentional movement, which was later co-opted by marketers and made totally hollow). Now, I understand that providing little girls with strong female role models in their earliest literary experiences is essential.

I think that in recent decades, marketing machines have become so savvy at targeting small children parents need to think early and often about protecting their children from, or at least counteracting against, the limiting definitions of gender. When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I think it would have been normal to become concerned about over-sexualized or over-feminine messages being pointed at middle schoolers or high schoolers. Now, the messaging is already strong in preschool. Looking for a good example? My daughter goes to a pretty progressive Montessori school in a well educated area, with fairly savvy parents. One of the little girls brings a Bratz backpack to school every day. Great. My daughter is exposed to little hookers every day at school. Cool.

So, what’s the solution for a parent of a little girl? A complete media blackout? No girlie things ever?

Absolutely not! I think all little children need to play with and explore gender identification by playing with the height of masculinity and femininity to discover where they feel most comfortable in the spectrum. I don’t want to deny my daughter the chance to be a girlie girl… I just don’t want it to be pre-packaged and pre-defined for her a-la Disney princesses (BLECH!!!).

So, my solution is to seek out fairy stories more than princess stories, to find the tales of the wise women and wise girls, the ones who aren’t waiting for rescue from a prince, but are out exploring the world on their own feet. In addition, I want to embrace my daughter’s girlie play, but with flowing skirts and poofy dresses that would befit any fairy or princess, not just those of Disney.

I’m not a super crafty person, but I find great inspiration on Etsy.com. Just check this out:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/48781742/leilani-an-island-pixie-a-tiaras

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